Parental leave and free childcare worth $353bn to Australian economy, report says

How much is good parental policy worth to the Australian economy? At least $166bn, according to new economic modelling.

Lifting female workforce participation to equal that of men? That’s worth $187bn more to the economy.

Supporting families with better parental leave and childcare policies should be a no-brainer, says Georgie Dent, the executive director of Parenthood, a group established to lobby for the betterment of families and working parents. But if the societal changes won’t shift the dial, Dent thinks the economics will.

The group on Monday released its blueprint for better parenting policies, the inaugural Australian national parenting strategy, which it hopes will serve as a framework for future government policy.

Equity Economics modelled the impact on Australia’s gross domestic product if early childcare education and care was provided free to Australian children, particularly those aged three to five, and parents were offered up to a year’s support to stay at home to care for their children.

It found national GDP would increase by 4.1% by 2050, or in dollar terms add $166bn to the economy, almost double that of coal exports.

The report concluded that if government policies also focused on having women return to the workforce, equalising women’s participation with men, Australia could have GDP increase by 8.7%, or $353bn in total, in just three decades.

Good parenting policy, and better early child education access made economic sense, Dent said. The report recommended universal health and wellbeing support for parents from pregnancy onwards, a PPL scheme of up to a year shared between both parents, free childcare and early education and flexible work arrangements as the priorities.

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“The solutions are straightforward and compelling, but we need leaders to recognise the case for change and take action to put parents, families and children first,” she said.

“Reforming early childhood care and education and the paid parental leave scheme are two pillars to increasing productivity, workforce participation, household income and child wellbeing in Australia. What is good for parents and children is good for our national economy and society.”

The report, which is due to be launched in Canberra on Monday, provides a boost to Labor’s call for universal childcare. The opposition is investigating an up to 90% subsidy for childcare, removing the cap, and extending the taper-off cut-offs for subsidies.

The policy, announced during Anthony Albanese’s budget reply speech last year, has formed the basis of Labor’s push for the working family vote. The government criticised the policy as providing “welfare for the wealthy”. Albanese has said he wants to make childcare a universal right, much like Medicare. Dent said a change was needed.

“It’s alarming that Unicef has ranked Australia in 32nd place out of 41 nations for child wellbeing in 2020, and noted we fall short in delivering consistently good health, education and social outcomes for children,” she said.

“It’s time for Australia to follow the lead of other countries and proactively pursue the policies and practices that make a difference in the lives of children and families as a matter of priority.”

Independent MP Zali Steggall will introduce a motion in parliament acknowledging the findings of the report and calling for more policy supports.

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The Australian government’s existing paid parental leave scheme, which offers up to 18 weeks’ leave at minimum wage, falls well short of the OECD average of 50+ weeks leave, while Australia also ranks fourth among OECD nations for childcare costs. A recent Productivity Commission report found at least 90,000 Australian parents did not return to the workforce last year because high childcare costs made it economically unfeasible.


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